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Academic Service Learning
Campus Compact's Engaged Department Institute Initiative

Executive Summary

The Engaged Department Institute and the California State University

Progress, Process and Challenges

Lori J. Vogelgesang & Kimberly Misa
Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA
Center for Service Learning Research and Dissemination

The director of the Office of Community Service Learning in the California State University (CSU) Chancellor’s Office invited us to complement the current assessment work done at Campus Compact’s Engaged Department Institute by conducting some evaluation research for a special 2001 session of the institute for CSU campus departments and community partners. This study examines how the participant teams fared in the year following the Institute, as they returned to campus to try to implement learning from the Institute. Teams consisted of the department chair, 2-3 faculty members, and a community partner. Some teams also included the campus service-learning director.

The study relies on data collected through a survey of faculty and staff Institute participants, structured telephone interviews with community partners, and in-depth case studies of two departmental teams. Thirty-one of the 42 participants (74%) responded to the anonymous paper-and-pencil survey conducted about 6 months after the summer institute, and eight of the nine community partners attending the institute participated in interviews. The site visits for the case studies took place nearly one year after the summer institute.

Faculty & Administrator Survey
The survey we constructed for this project asked people to share their perceptions of various aspects of the work of the “engaged department” team and of their department in the first six months following the Institute. The survey responses indicate that the area in which participants feel their teams have made the most progress is in enhancing individual and departmental familiarity with service learning. This was true whether the department was perceived as unfamiliar with service learning prior to the institute, or already had some awareness. Most respondents felt their team was ‘on track’ about six months after the institute; those that that weren’t on track cited reasons such as lack of time, the need for a project coordinator, or needing to develop relationships with a community partner. A few people felt their teams were exceeding their own expectations, and the reasons given included being able to offer more service learning courses than planned, establishing a resource center, and securing outside funding.

Evaluation of service learning and engagement efforts are lower priorities for these teams, as reflected in fewer than half the respondents identifying these as goal areas. Some teams might view evaluation as an area that “can wait” while they give attention to areas seen as more important in these early stages. Since evaluation is not seen as a goal area by most, it is not surprising to see that progress in evaluation efforts is coming slowly too. Similarly, integrating service learning into faculty review processes remains difficult. This, too, is not surprising given that only about six months elapsed since the Institute. One would expect that evaluation, and integration of service into the reward processes, as indicators of institutionalization, will come more slowly than will raising awareness and support. Even within the CSU system, the degree to which service learning is ‘counted’ in the faculty review process varies among campuses.

Participants indicated the degree to which different sources and resources supported their work toward becoming more engaged. There was no single source of support (such as the faculty, the dean, the department head, the disciplinary association) that emerged as particularly powerful. Rather, participants identified multiple sources of support for each of their goals. The exception was in the areas that pertained to evaluation and integration of this work into the faculty reward structure; for these areas no sources of support were identified.

We also examined the degree to which resources such as leave time and printed resources to support becoming a more engaged department were available at each institution. The most common source of support among those listed is on-campus professional development opportunities, with nearly all respondents saying it is at least a minor support. Frequently, these on-campus opportunities (such as a campus-wide Service Learning Fellows program) are coordinated by a service learning office. Printed resources and administrative support appear to be available – and of at least some support – to most respondents, and off-campus training is seen as a support by two-thirds of the respondents. Leave time is not a typical form of support, with about 60% of respondents saying it is not available/not a support.

Finally, we asked participants of the CSU Engaged Department Institute whether they felt that their department faculty colleagues were aware of the resources available through the CSU Service Learning Curriculum and Infrastructure Development Initiative. It is important to keep in mind that funds distributed through the Chancellor’s office are made available to faculty on each CSU campus, but each campus has developed its own plan for how to make funds available to faculty. The availability of service learning minigrants is clearly the resource best known to faculty, with 30.8% of respondents indicating that faculty in their department were quite knowledgeable about this resource, and an additional 38.5% saying their colleagues were somewhat aware. Participants also think their colleagues are aware of conferences, but less than half of the respondents believe there is knowledge among their colleagues of the scholarships offered through the Chancellor’s initiative.

Community Partner Telephone Interviews
The types of organizations as well as strength of relationship with the university partners varies greatly among teams. In several cases the partnership didn’t exist last June, and/ or no longer exists, in other cases the partnership is seen as quite strong and mutually beneficial. The department teams are partnering with small social service agencies, county organizations, public schools and other non-profits. In some cases a faculty member initiated the contact, in others the community agency approached the university.

Despite the wide range of partnerships, several common issues emerged. Almost all of the community partners felt that the institute was valuable because it allowed team members to become further acquainted with one another, and it facilitated a planning process by structuring time together. Several partners commented that the institute provided an opportunity for them to form a relationship with the department, or at least with individual faculty members beyond the one person they had known prior to participating in the institute. Challenges to a strong partnership, according to community partners, include finding time to meet faculty partners in person, and following up on the work of the institute in general.

Case Studies
The case studies resulted in many interesting findings contextualized by the individual campus and community cultures of Humboldt State University and California State University, Fullerton. Here we present only the overall themes that emerged from both campuses.

  • One person can actually play a very influential role in galvanizing a critical mass.
  • The Engaged Department Institute provided leverage – both teams have moved from having T-H-E service learning person to having a critical amount of buy-in from the department.
  • The Institute helped to strengthen the support of the departmental chair – they have a better understanding of reflection and connecting course material to experience.
  • Dialogue among faculty around what it means to be an engaged department has deepened faculty conversations around what they want students to learn.
  • Both teams have connected the work of the institute to larger goals of the department.
  • Teams want to take advantage of personnel transitions in departments to recruit and hire faculty interested in community-based work.
  • The broader academic culture is seen as a barrier to junior faculty involvement in both departments; at one institution the standards for reward mirror the larger culture, but at the other university the faculty reward supports this work.
  • This work continues to be underfunded.
  • Departments are not (yet) implementing evaluation.

The work of departments to become more engaged in their communities bears much resemblance to other forms of change within the academy. We have learned from other research that faculty need to be committed and feel a part of any change effort, and indeed department teams seem to recognize this as they pay attention to that buy-in first. We have seen varying levels of support for engagement work in institutional reward processes for faculty, but nonetheless there appears a committed core group of faculty who will do this work because it is of intrinsic value to them; they also support changing the faculty rewards process. Finally, though some teams are making progress, they express very clearly the need for continued support from all sources, in order that their efforts can continue.

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Judy Botelho
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Last Updated: April 29, 2008